April 12, 2007
Classic of polar literature
Knud Rasmussen ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knud_Rasmussen ) was a native Greenlander who was half Inuit and half Danish. He was the first person to travel the Northwest Passage by dog-sled, around 1922, as re-told in this readable and enjoyable account first published in 1927. Known as the "Fifth Thule Expedition", it was designed to be an ethnographic expedition to answer "that great question the origins of the Eskimo race". A native speaker of Inuit, Rasmussen's insights into the religion and inner-life, voice and spirit of the Inuit remains a classic of polar travel literature and ethnography. The Inuit language is difficult to translate and Rasmussen's unique position of straddling both cultures proves indispensable.
Rasmussen traveled with two Inuit who had never before left Greenland. On the return trip home by plane, the group stopped in New York City and were awed by what they saw. One said while looking over the city skyline from a rooftop: "I see things more than my mind can grasp; and the only way to save myself from madness is to suppose that we have all died, and that this is part of another life." An Inuit Shaman revealed to Rasmussen "All true wisdom is only to be found far from the dwellings of men, in the great solitudes; and it can only be obtained through suffering. Suffering and privation are the only things that can open the mind of man to that which is hidden from his fellows."
An Inuit-produced film 'The Journals of Knud Rasmussen' (2006) was recently made based on the book, produced by the same people who made 'The Fast Runner' (2001), which has been called one of the 10 best Canadian films. This book is pretty rare in first editions going for $50-$100 in the used market. A re-issue was made in 1999, still in print. See also the books by Peter Freuchan for accounts of this journey and others he took with Rasmussen.
Available for free on Internet Archive ( http://www.archive.org/details/acrossarcticamer006641mbp ), the only known copy on the Internet at the moment. This scan has some problems, missing about 8 pages scattered throughout (out of 390pp, nothing critical), and many of the pictures are all but un-viewable - I made a report and hope they correct it; but it's free and immediately available for the armchair dog-sleder.